In a pointed exchange during last night’s GOP presidential debate, Mitt Romney slammed Rick Santorum on what we thought was last election cycle’s issue of earmarks: “While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere.”

That statement is symbolic of the entire cat fight — with no one emerging as Olympian and the candidates forced so far to the right in the primary that the nomination may ultimately be a bridge to nowhere. As previously thought to be settled subjects like birth control come to the forefront, and the GOP forfeiting the swing state of Michigan by vehemently opposing Detroit’s successful auto bailout, the election in 2012 is looking like it may be a landslide in favor of Barack Obama. What I mean by a “landslide” in this divided nation is a 10-15 point victory.

The race is quickly becoming about social issues at a time when most Americans are still worried about the struggling — yet slowly improving — economy. However, the overreach by conservatives and brutal backlash has shown that this strategy has its limits. For example, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonell reversed his position this week on a bill that would force women to have an intrusive vaginal ultrasound before having an abortion. One Virginia Democrat even called the legislation a “rape” bill. This disgusting bill is a Terri Schiavo moment all over again — with social conservatives and their political puppets badly overreaching and scaring the hell out of the American people.

Speaking of Hell — Rick Santorum is nauseating mainstream voters with old tapes revealing that he sounds like like a parody of Saturday Night Live’s old “Church Lady” skit.

“Satan has his sights on the United States of America,” Santorum told a Catholic university audience in 2008. “Satan is attacking the great institutions of America — using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that (have) so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

Santorum is also alienating women. He told the Christian blog Caffeinated Thoughts that as president he would warn the nation about the dangers of contraception: “Many of Christian faith have said, `Well, that’s OK. Contraception is OK.’ It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. … If it’s not for purposes of procreation, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women.”

In his 2005 book, “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good,” Santorum takes a swipe at working women: “For some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home.” He described it as a sad situation created by “radical feminists” who undermined the traditional family by “convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”

Not surprisingly, women are waking up to the fact that Santorum is a Caveman. New York Times Caucus reporter Allisaon Kopicki reported today on a new poll showing women were shunning Santorum in droves:

A gender gap for Rick Santorum has surfaced in the most recent set of polls released before next week’s primaries, with women in Arizona supporting Mitt Romney over Mr. Santorum by nearly 2 to 1.

This is the first time in the campaign that polling in various states, as well as exit polls, has shown that the support for Mr. Santorum has become noticeably uneven between men and women.

The latest poll, conducted in Arizona by NBC News/Marist and released Wednesday, showed that women support Mr. Romney over Mr. Santourm 46 percent to 23 percent. In addition, Mr. Romney has an eight percentage point lead among men.

I know that many people would prefer that Santorum get the nomination because they figure that Obama will destroy him — and they are likely correct in this assessment. Still, the prospect of Santorum so close to the presidency in a turbulent time, in a country full of volatile, unpredictable voters is terrifying. In a way, having Santorum as the nominee is like playing Russian Roulette. The odds are heavily in your favor that you are going to win the game, but is it really worth the risk?
What happens if the stars align and three troubling scenarios occur simultaneously:
1) Europe falls into a financial abyss, bringing our economy down and causing a spike in unemployment
2) War breaks out in Iran. Of course, America wins, but the Iranian speed boats get lucky and sink a single American aircraft carrier, which is replayed thousands of times on television. Gas prices also spike during the battle as the election draws near with $6 prices at the pump.
3) Meanwhile, North Korea starts making noise and threatening South Korea.
With America looking militarily weak, people depressed at the state of the economy, and furious at soaring gas prices — enough Independents give a protest vote to Santorum, which adds to his huge base of energized social conservatives. The next thing your know we have President Santorum preaching against birth control, railing against marriage equality, and protecting America from Satan.

The Political Apocalypse has come.

This is unlikely to happen, but plausible enough to send shivers up, down, and around my spine. Is anyone comfortable risking a Santorum presidency? I’m not.